Monday, December 1, 2014

Business Insider Survey Reveals Evaluation of Law School Must Require Statistical Chincanery

Recently, Business Insider - which, for the record, employs a fairly large staff for an online property and has millions of views each month - published some "survey results" that warrant further inquiry.

First up, we have pedestrian clickbait The 50 Best Law Schools in America.  The list itself isn't revolutionary or interesting beyond serving as confirmation of prestige to upper T2 attendees/graduates.  What struck me, however, is the methodology.  If you think that the US News methodology is lacking in sound methods, Business Insider has taken it to 11.5:
To create this list, we surveyed more than 300 American legal professionals to determine the best law schools in the US with the help of SurveyMonkey.
...
Our survey asked participants to select the top 10 law schools in terms of how well they prepare students to land their ideal job. We recorded the percentage of respondents that ranked each school in the top 10.

Approximately 52% of survey participants said they have a law degree, while 3.5% reported that they had a partial degree, meaning they're either still in law school or dropped out.
Did the record screech on your end, too?


You surveyed "legal professionals" but only half claim to have a law degree?  Are you ranking law schools based on what paralegals, secretaries, librarians, and HR people think?  Did you ask the IT people, too?  The bailiff at the courthouse?  Unless you have a JD and have been on the job market, how in the world are you qualified to answer the question asked?

More questions with this particular survey abound, such as:  How was the "more than 300" decided in a pool that includes hundreds of thousands of people?  Did they ever consider that deriving a list of fifty from a bunch of top ten lists is a logical flaw by itself?

As we know, law school rankings are bogus and silly, but I find it disheartening nonetheless that BI's "Top Law Schools" article already has more hits in its first few days than this entire blog got in its first six months of existence.  Yet, they can't even be bothered to have a reasonable methodology to back up their nonsense, particularly when they know that law schools market this crap as if it means something.

Does anyone in this industry care about being honest in their life-altering lies?

As-if that counter-revolutionary assault on statistics weren't enough, Business Insider then doubled-down in scam propaganda with - wait for it - Law School is Worth It Even if You Don't Get Into Harvard or Yale.

WHAT THE...?!
In a survey of 371 legal professionals conducted by Business Insider, 49.4% of participants said they'd still attend law school even if they didn't get into a top-tier program.
...
Of the legal professionals surveyed, just 35.7% said they would not attend law school if they didn't get into a top program, 14.9% said it depends, and 7.8% did not respond.
...
"The law school that I attended taught me practical skills and greatly prepared me to practice law in the real world," wrote one respondent, who attended Thomas Cooley School of Law, an unranked law school.
It appears that the "371 legal professionals" are from the same damned pool of survey respondents as the "top 50 law schools" bunch.  For one, they link to the methodology page from the other article in the first paragraph, and later the article references comparisons to the "top 10" schools chosen by respondents.

So, uh, do these people even have law degrees?  If they don't have a JD, how can they say with any credibility that law school is "worth it?"  If less than half are saying they'd attend, isn't that a problem and not a good thing?  How in the world is that title appropriate for print?

Sidestepping other problems (why are people who didn't respond being included?  of the people who actually have law degrees, do their percentages break down equally as the other "legal professionals?"), there are two issues commonly seen with sham surveys asking whether people would go to law school again that require special mention:
  1. The population mismatch.  If you're going to ask whether people would "still" go to law school, or go to law school all over again, the population is law school graduates.  Not lawyers.  Not legal professionals.  Law school graduates.  (Or, if it's strictly a hypothetical about who would go with monopoly money, then you could include people who seriously are thinking or thought about law school).
  2. The age cohort problem.  People who are 45-80 and have had a long and successful career after paying off relatively little student loan debt in boomier times are likely to answer these questions differently than the 25-40 crowd dealing with a terrible attorney market and crushing debt loads.  You really can't ask these questions to a 60-year-old because they are as clueless as the 0Ls still looking at InfiLaw schools.  Propagation of such flawed surveys is basically the blind leading the blind.
What we unfortunately have is Business Insider making a grandiose claim ("law school worth it!") that is patently absurd, purportedly backed up by a survey that is seriously flawed on several grounds, and that is not even supported by the survey results if the survey results were accurate.

Of course, what happens - and they know this - is that people read the headline and then barely read the rest of the article.  This is why newspapers have/used to have ethics standards.  And then a bunch of superficial looks at crap articles and marketing materials ends with packing junior's crappy used car before he drives off to Michigan or Florida to pursue his juris dream and start the good life...

Business Insider and its editors can't be this stupid, and they have the resources to not be this stupid.  Is it all clickbait, or is there something more sinister at work?  There almost has to be.  Unfortunately, OTLSS does not have a large staff and a budget to investigate such things.

What strikes me more is that in light of the ongoing faux controversy over bar examination scores and certain scholars continuing to loudly support non-peer reviewed rubbish statistics, it's almost like this whole industry is simply impervious to the straight dope.

Journalism is supposed to be a watchdog on the corporate-government(-educational) complex. It's bad enough when they spout the lies of authority, but when they start helping to make up the lies, we've got a whole new problem.

And yet articles boosting up law school (generally or one school in particular) continue to fester, and sadly reach a much wider and receptive audience than blogs like this one.

But, since law school evaluations require that statistical legerdemain, I'd like to present to you the hot results of my own survey of 117 working legal professionals.  When asked if they would attend a non-elite private law school, all 117 said "law school? are you fuckin' serious?"

(Does it really matter than 1 of the 117 was a homeless man who sells postcards outside of the courthouse and the other 116 were yours truly hitting copy and paste [a jd-advantage skill, btw]?)

21 comments:

  1. "Click HERE for One Weird Trick on how to succeed at Law School and get the BigLaw job of your dreams...Stay to the end of the video, the results will SHOCK you!!!"

    ReplyDelete
  2. Ranking a law school by bar examination results is one indicator of the law school's performance. When year after year the bar passage rates of a law school are dismally low, it seems they are doing something wrong. Whether it be admitting academically deficient students or substandard teaching methods, the result shows in one nationwide test.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Paradoxically, schools with the lowest bar passage rates usually devote many more resources to preparing their students than do t1 and t2 schools, so I think we can safely say the former is the correct explanation.

      Delete
  3. OT but must read: Law School Becomes Buyers’ Market as Competition for Best Students Increases

    http://dealbook.nytimes.com/2014/12/01/law-school-becomes-buyers-market-as-competition-for-best-students-increases/?ref=business

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Imagining a Buzz Leityear ConniptionDecember 2, 2014 at 10:48 AM

      BoCo, thanks much for bringing attention to that article. They hit most of the high points.

      Love this one:
      ' “It’s insane,” Professor Rodriguez [dean at Northwestern] said. “We’re in hand-to-hand combat with other schools.” '

      Delete
    2. ...sounds like the "crazy eddie's" electronics store commercials on late night tv..."we've slashed our tuition prices so much the competition thinks we are in-sane"

      Just remember, the real life crazy Eddie, eddie antwar went to jail

      Delete
    3. Crazy Eddie went to jail because what he did was illegal.

      The law schools, in contrast, are running a legal scam. Repeat that: A legal scam.

      No one has been touched in the slightest. And I highly doubt they will be, ever.

      The only way to hurt the Law School Scam Industry is what is being done now: Keeping the word out there about the Scam and thus fostering enrollment decline. The only way right now to beat this legal scam is to starve it into submission.

      Delete
  4. Do TTTTs get extra credit if they're located in the state's capital city?!?! That seems to be on every toilet's website, as if that makes it somehow more desirable or means that the job market is better. Who gives a damn if your commode is located in the capital of Wyoming or Delaware?

    ReplyDelete
  5. Indeed, only the flashy headline is meant to be read. The calculation is that people will assume that the text supports it.

    Why don't I jump on the bandwagon of rating law skules? Here, for the first time ever, is the Old Guy Top 5:

    Yale
    Wyoming
    Wisconsin
    William Mitchell
    William & Mary

    My über-scientific methodology features a single criterion: reverse alphabetical order. (I had to start at the end so that Yale would be on top, lending my ranking more respectability than if I had started with Akron.)

    Old Guy

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. In other news, Cooley has now changed it's named to zCooley and has obtained the top spot in the Old Guy screwl ranking! El Presidente Le Dec has awarded himself a much deserved bonus for this brilliant maneuver.

      Delete
    2. Close, Cooley did actually change its name to Western Michigan, which puts it around number 8.

      Delete
  6. The methodology page explains the components of the ranking, but says nothing about how the survey (which counts for 50% of the ranking) was conducted! Well, actually, it does provide one bit of info-- that Business Insider used a firm called Survey Monkey.

    According to the Survey Monkey site, "SurveyMonkey Audience has millions of people ready to take your surveys." It further states that clients can "Pick your custom audience."

    https://www.surveymonkey.com/mp/audience/

    Who are these Survey Monkey survey takers, out there in their teeming millions? Are they compensated? They must be, because why would anyone provide their time and attention to a data collection firm for free? Do some Survey Monkey survey takers designate themselves as legal professionals, entitling them and only them to take customized surveys about the legal profession? They must, because how else would Survey Monkey be able to target "legal professionals"?

    I am thinking that here is real JD-Advantage work-- taking online surveys about the legal profession. Survey Monkey, you have saved our profession.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Imagining a Buzz Leityear ConniptionDecember 2, 2014 at 10:55 AM

      Just a guess, but they probably trolled linkedin and large firm websites for "legal professionals" with available email addresses.

      Then you just load the survey content and desired respondent pool email addresses into the tool and it sends invitations to the targeted respondents. (I have no clue, though, how it might work if you did not supply a respondent pool.)

      Although it's got a funky name, SurveyMonkey is becoming fairly well accepted for doing targeted surveys; e.g., I've gotten serious surveys from large, stodgy corps.

      Of course, any survey is only as good as its questions and targeting and, as LSTC notes above in a rare instance of non-parody, neither criterion seems fulfilled in this case.

      Delete
    2. LSTC writes mostly nonparody on the otlss site.

      Delete
  7. Weird order, with Chicago so far down.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. "Weird order, with Chicago so far down."

      Perhaps they are using the Cooley Scale.

      Delete
    2. Imagining a Buzz Leityear ConniptionDecember 2, 2014 at 10:40 AM

      Sorry Brian!

      Delete
  8. A law schools's ranking is only important as an indicator of

    (1) your likelihood of obtaining a full time, permanent job that requires a law degree with the "likelihood" compenent determined by your class rank at that school, and

    (2) your probability of passing the bar exam on the first attempt.

    Everything else is fluff, although given the animal law and sports law programs at specific law schools, it is expensive fluff.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Yes, but you can drop (2), as it is not a big issue at those schools that rank high according to (1).

      Old Guy

      Delete
  9. OT, but I saw this article in Slate yesterday about the impending closing of several law schools: http://www.slate.com/blogs/moneybox/2014/12/01/law_school_applications_collapse_get_ready_for_schools_to_start_closing.html

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Weissmann is a shill for the law-school scam. He's hostile to a few Cooleys, but he continues to promote law school as a good option. For those who have neither piles of money nor connections, even Harvard and Yale are questionable, and the advisability of attending other law schools drops precipitously with rank.

      I don't agree that "schools are doing everything in their power to pare back expenses". They're doing everything in their power to stay in business.

      Old Guy

      Delete